A conversation with Q from Fidelity

There is something you should know about me and that is I hate money. I don’t like talking about money, I despise the back-n-forth at a job negation about salary, I hate thinking about retirement accounts and investments. Oh I can spend money, but I’ve never been one to balance a checkbook or stick to a budget. This doesn’t mean I live outside my means. I did that once and almost got into a deep hole I’d never get out of. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to dig myself out and stay in the black. After that, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t get into that sort of situation again. But that still doesn’t mean I like thinking about money.

When it comes to planning for retirement, I have the most pessimistic view possible: that I’ll never be able to retire. Thus when it comes to planning for retirement and choosing 401k plans and hearing about IRA’s, my brain shuts down and I beginning trembling violently. I never really bothered to fully understand this process. While I have a loose grasp on the fundamentals, the details… well, to be quite honest, bore me. I do not understand them and make no claims to know. In this regard, I feel ignorant. I could take the time to familiarize myself with these topics, but frankly I just don’t have the motivation to do so. It hurts my brains.

We are trained to pick up keywords through the media and we do it almost subconsciously. Be it through commercials on television or the radio, we are bombarded with ads from brokerage firms telling us we NEED to do something about retirement or our kids will be going to Devry while working at QuikStop and we will be greeting people at Wal-Mart and selling meth on the side to pay for the meds. Ok, maybe it isn’t that dramatic, but there is one keyword that had been hammered into my mind and this is “rollover”.

Leave one job for another and the retirement account you sent up on the old place of employment is now floundering and languishing without your knowledge. From my perspective, these ads mentioning rollover make you believe that a) the process is so simple you will be done with rolling over before you can finish your Cobb salad at lunch and b) if you don’t rollover your previous account, the brokers over there will know you left and use your saved money for hookers and blow during a hedonistic vacation on the Cayman islands. And therein lies the problem. You want to be doing hookers and blow on some beach when you retire and you’ll be dammed if some Ivy League punk with a $3,000 suit is going to use your retirement money for it! Then you feel compelled, almost like you have been assigned a quest to figure out WTF is going on.

A couple weeks ago, my company hosted a Wellness Fair/Benefits Fair at the office. This coincided with the soon-to-be-happening Open Enrollment period. This was an important time for me. When I had joined the company, I did not need to sign up for the medical/dental/vision plan, but I did start the 401k offered (with matching benefits from the Company) through Fidelity. Now, I did need to sign up for medical insurance.

The representatives there seemed bored and distracted. The Cigna lady was surfing on her iPad. The WebMD lady and the Fidelity needed a room. I passed the credit union table – didn’t need that. Picked up brochures from the dental (need that!) and medical table (she barely looked up from her Words With Friends app) and bellied up to the Fidelity table.

Mr. Fidelity seemed drunk. And distracted. I had interrupted his fake-laugh-stupid-smile game with the WebMD lady. Though I was annoyed, I was nervous. When I finally had his attention, I belched out the word: “rollover”. Gawd… he started asking me all these questions. I had no answers. He handed me a card, took my information, and put me on my way. Expect a call in a few days, he said.

Two weeks later…

Q calls me. He’s a nice man. I pegged him as African-American and gay as a French parade. He asked me lots of questions to which most of my replies started off like this, “Uhh…” He was patient and must have had plenty of practice with the stupid, ie me. It was like talking to a child; speaking slow and using small words. This is ok. I need this. I am, I told him, fairly ignorant in the area.

After some painful Q&A, guestimating, and some number crunching Q figures I will need $2,000,000 by the time I retire in 30 years. While I did not laugh out loud, I probably did make a face. Now that I think about it, I’m glad my first reaction hadn’t be to blurt out, “Whatcha talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”

During our entire conversation, Q repeated a standard disclaimer at least three times. I assume the man had it tattooed on his forearm. “While I will attempt to answer in question you may have, in no way should this be considered advice for your financial goals.” Or something to that effect. A standard CYA so that when my fund goes tits up and I’m left to live under a freeway, I can’t sue them. This just made it all that more ironic when Q suggests that I need to up my contribution to my retirement by a few percentage points and would I like for him to get that process started for me.

Wait… What just happened there? Don’t take my advice, but here is my advice. I felt like calling him out on it but then I don’t want to be ‘one of those guys’. I can imagine that working the phones in a customer service capacity can be a brutal job at times, especially when you get a dick on the phone and you HAVE to be nice. If I were more schooled in this area I might have spoken up, but instead I politely declined.

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